CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Club sports on the college level can often be more of a passing hobby than a true commitment.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's club lacrosse team fell into that category when it was created in 2006, but it didn't stay there long.
Six years after its inception, the Mocs are ranked among the top ten club teams in the country heading into their first national tournament appearance.
"We're trying to toe that line between being a club sport and something more," said club president and team captain Zach Taylor. "Obviously we're not going to be a varsity team and we're not going to get scholarships, but still want to have that level of commitment, that level of dedication and that level of play."
Making that happen is often easier said than done, especially considering Taylor is one of several UTC players who never played lacrosse before getting to college.
Luckily for the BGA grad, he was able to quickly surround himself with guys who knew plenty about the game.
"What Zach doesn't know, we all just pitch in and help out," said keeper Sam Hobbs, who won a pair of state lacrosse championships at McCallie. "We don't look down on him because he doesn't know it. We just say this is what we know and we throw it all together."
Taylor may not have known much about the sport, but he recognized the club's potential when he joined three years ago.
Starting last season, the group started recruiting hard on campus to find guys who took the sport seriously. They also made a push on a larger landscape to join the National College Lacrosse League, which includes more than 100 club teams across the country.
The group gets a $2,500 budget from UTC, but finances most of its equipment and expenses through member dues.
"These guys understand the situation we're in and they help out with it," Taylor said of the program's growth. "It's easy to be successful when the group of guys you're dealing with is understanding about what's going on."
The Mocs were able to gain admission to the NCLL this season as a member of the newly-formed Deep South Conference, which includes Mississippi State, Samford, Tennessee Tech and Middle Tennessee State.
With it's new and focused approach, Chattanooga started strong in 2012 and quickly rose into the national rankings. In hopes of getting tougher tests, UTC even scheduled several games against lower-level varsity programs like Shorter and Rheinhardt.
The hard work culminated last week with a 15-14 win over MTSU that clinched the first-ever Deep South Conference championship, which also qualified the now seventh-ranked Mocs for the NCLL National Elite Eight Tournament this weekend.
"Just to get a bid to the national tournament is an honor, especially representing a school that doesn't have much of an impact with lacrosse," said sophomore Jordan Vaughn, who scored in the win over MTSU.
The Mocs' first taste of national tournament play will be against No. 6 Slippery Rock in the national quarterfinals on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET in Annapolis, Maryland.
The team's hotel costs will be covered by the NCLL and it will get a little help with gas money, but a majority of the trip is covered by the team itself. A few players actually won't make the trip because of finances and the need to work.
"We've never been further than Mississippi as a team, so this is a big step in terms of travel and a big step up in terms of competition," said Taylor.
With that latter point in mind, the ultimate goal this weekend isn't really to bring home a national championship. Instead, the Mocs are just hoping to bring home some respect from the powerhouse programs in the Northeast that typically dominate the sport.
"We need to step up our game," Hobbs said. "We've never been here before, but I'm hoping to leave with people knowing who we are and knowing we are an actual program."
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